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“Diversity” can sometimes be viewed as a feel good corporate buzzword. But it is absolutely imperative from a business/marketing perspective. For a customer-centric organization to out-innovate, out-maneuver and win in today’s marketplace, it must have an internal organization made up of diverse employees who model the very customers it aims to serve. A diverse workplace — both in ideas and backgrounds — ensures companies can quickly, efficiently and authentically rally to meet rapidly evolving consumer needs in innovative and sometimes provocative ways. We asked Gabriella Giglio, EVP Global Human Resources at American Express, to explain how diversity is driving the bottom line for the top advertiser.

Brandon Gutman: How has American Express taken its commitment to diversity and turned it into a tangible marketing strategy?

Gabriella Giglio: We have a current example that launched earlier this summer and is in market now. At American Express, our LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community employee network – “PRIDE” – recently took a new look at some existing business assets. The result is a marketing program that’s driving consumer and merchant engagement.

The program, which launched in May is called “Shop Small Provincetown.” It’s a first-of-its kind initiative designed to help the more than 700 local merchants in this popular Cape Cod, Massachusetts, destination expand their business and connect with their customers, many of whom are part of the LBGT community.

How did you bring the Shop Small Provincetown program to market – what are the core elements?

It’s been a two-phased process. In preparation for this peak-season Cardmember program, PRIDE members led a “Merchant Walk.” They opened up a dialogue between American Express and nearly 200 shop-owners. The team also offered a free social media workshop with experts from Twitter and American Express, to help merchants use the platforms to better promote their businesses. And PRIDE continues to roll out the program through August with a special offer on Twitter that allows Cardmembers who sync their cards and Tweet the hashtag #AmexPtown to get a $20 statement credit when they spend $20 at a local merchant. The pilot is rounded out with a Human Rights Campaign partnership and sponsorships of local events like the Provincetown International Film Festival.

PRIDE pilot co-chairs

In a just a few months’ time, the program has taken off – resonating with consumers and merchants.

So how did this little idea become a big win? And how could other brands tap into the their diverse employee base to drive bottom line results?

There are a few common themes that emerged during the process of bringing Shop Small Provincetown to market – and you can look at them as five steps that could apply to marketers universally.

1. Make Your Employee Networks about Marketing – Not Just Mixers. At American Express, we want these groups to foster a sense of community among our diverse employee base. But we also charge them with helping to solve real business challenges. Networks like PRIDE are made up of employees from across the organization. And when empowered, they can serve as an agile, cross functional task force – delivering creative, tangible solutions.

2. Keep an Open Door and an Open Mind. Some of the best ideas come from the most unexpected places. For example, the Shop Small Provincetown program came to light during the Q&A portion of an internal town hall. And because the PRIDE network has access to executive sponsors and senior leadership, the concept gained traction and went from being just an idea in a meeting to a reality in the market.

3. Change the Tire; Don’t Reinvent the Wheel. Encourage employee networks to take a look at existing brand assets and find ways to refine, re-skin and renew them so they resonate. In the case of Shop Small Provincetown, the PRIDE network leveraged some of our most highly visible assets – the Shop Small movement that’s anchored by Small Business Saturday; and our sync offer ecosystem that comes to life on Facebook, foursquare and Twitter. By tapping into the equity we already have in these programs, we were able to get into market quicker and more effectively.

Gabriella Giglio of American Express

4. If You Can’t Speak the Language, Don’t Fake the Accent. Consumers are savvy – and when working to reach new and diverse segment groups, you have to keep your approach and solutions authentic to the market segment needs and your brand assets. By having and tapping into a diverse talent pool, you can get real-time direction and feedback from your target audience on what strikes a chord and what falls flat.

5. Start Small but Think Big: Programs like Shop Small Provincetown can start off as pilots – but they need to be developed with an eye towards scale if you want them to take off. In this case, the PRIDE network developed a program framework that could be easily replicated and scaled in markets around the world.

Follow Brandon on Twitter at http://twitter.com/brandongutman

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by Brandon Gutman
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Brandon is an expert connector and seasoned business development professional. As Principal of Brand Approved, he's led the advisory to become the bridge between brand marketers and best of breed service providers that are reshaping the industry.

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